Man of Steel by Rudyao
Man of Steel, by Rudyao

2013 was a year that was mostly populated with sequels, and sequels are a double-edged sword. You have an established world and characters to work with and build upon, and an audience already interested in what you’re doing. However, you also run the risk of undoing good work done in previous installments, watering down the message previously established, or alienating the audience, or at least some of it, when you move in a new direction. The two movies that disappointed me this year demonstrate these pitfalls extremely well, and I’m going to take some time to detail what I feel went wrong in both cases.

Let me clarify something, however, before we begin. I enjoyed watching both of these movies. I will admit there’s great stuff in both of them. At no point during either one did I throw up my hands and storm out of the theatre, feeling I’d been spoken down to or that the filmmakers had pulled an untoward bait-and-switch. These are high-quality films with great casts and interesting ideas. But I’ll be honest: both of them really disappointed me.

When JJ Abrams took the helm of Star Trek, I was curious. After the first movie under his command, I was intrigued. A fresh new cast inhabiting the classic characters in a new timeline with new aesthetics had me highly anticipatory of the direction they’d go in. Unfortunately, the direction they chose was back to the past. Star Trek Into Darkness did quite a few things right in executing one of the best-known storylines from the classic era, but as well as those things were done, they could have been done just as well with new characters unconnected to the previous tales. What’s disappointing to me about this is that its demonstrating a trend towards pandering and fanservice. These things aren’t necessarily bad, but when they’re the core of your creative endeavor rather than a fringe benefit, the entire work can suffer for it. I know this creative team is capable of better. I’m cautiously optimistic that they will learn from their mistakes and give us something new.

More than Into Darkness, however, I was deeply disappointed by Man of Steel. Again, we have a very talented cast working within a fascinating aesthetic that breathes new life into a world we already know. However, rather than utilizing these high-quality tools to provide a counterpoint to Christopher Nolan’s interpretation of Batman, as Superman is almost always Batman’s counterpoint, I can’t help but feel like these characters have somehow become virtually one and the same. Where Star Trek leans towards pandering, Man of Steel was more concerned about Superman’s messianic overtones and the tendency lately of superheros being dour, grim, stoic miseryguts rather than concentrating on using their abilities to help people. The titular character in Thor: The Dark World acts more like Superman than Superman does in Man of Steel, a clear indication that something’s gone wrong with our friends Nolan and Goyer. There are moments in the film where something truly exciting in the world of Superman can be glimpsed, but it gets overshadowed by the darkness and seriousness that dominates the film. It smothers the fun we could be having, it undercuts the talents of the cast, and just leaves me feeling irritated and frustrated. This could have been so much better!

What disappointed you the most in 2013?